Exercise for Depression: A Feasibility Trial Exploring Neural Mechanisms

Swathi Gujral, Howard Aizenstein, Charles F. Reynolds, Meryl A. Butters, George Grove, Jordan F. Karp, Kirk I. Erickson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Objective: The aim of this study was to test the feasibility of an exercise augmentation to pharmacotherapy in depressed younger and older adults while exploring neural mechanisms. Methods: A randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial was conducted in 15 inactive younger (20–39 years)and older (60–79 years)adults meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, criteria for a major depressive episode (https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02407704). Participants were randomized to receive a 12-week regimen of venlafaxine XR or venlafaxine XR plus supervised exercise. Cardiorespiratory fitness was assessed using a submaximal VO 2 test, and neuroimaging assessments were conducted using a Siemans MAGNETOM 7-Tesla magnetic resonance scanner at the University of Pittsburgh. Results: Attrition was 38% and 14% for the medication and exercise groups, respectively. Attendance was 91% for the exercise intervention. Exploratory analyses revealed an association between improvement in fitness and increased cortical thickness in the anterior cingulate cortex. Conclusion: Exercise augmentation to pharmacotherapy is feasible for depressed younger and older adults and may have neural benefits in a core brain region implicated in depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)611-616
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Exercise
  • MRI
  • brain
  • depression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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